Like you, I’ve had circumstances in my life where I had to choose to hang on to bitterness or forgive and really be free. My parents divorced when I was 7. My dad died tragically of SARS when I was 22. He never met my kids, and they didn’t get to meet him. I was fired wrongfully from a position over a scheduling mix up, that a company wasn’t willing to resolve. The list goes on, right?
I heard a woman say once, “You can be bitter or you can be better.”
It’s easier to be bitter, but we can only let go of the past if we let it go and truly choose the better path.
Here are three exercises I use to leave the past in the past:
1. DO SOMETHING: Pick an old situation that still festers in your heart and do something about it. Apologize, right a wrong, do an act of service for someone who hurt you, or if nothing else – write a letter. You may never get to send it, but write a letter sharing your thoughts so that you can get everything you’re feeling on paper.
2. WRITE A LEARNING PAGE: Take an experience and write 10 things that experience taught you. Maybe you’ve learned how to respond better, or how NOT to do something. Maybe you learned what’s in your control and “no control” column. Maybe you learned that no matter what people do to you, kindness back never hurts. This can help you reframe the past and choose what you can learn from it to move on.
3. PRACTICE GRATITUDE EVERY DAY: When you find yourself stuck in a victim mindset, it can be easy to look for everything that’s going wrong. Train your brain to look for everything that is going right. When I was in the middle of a heart breaking divorce, I felt like I was justified to feel sad and wronged. I carried this attitude about me for weeks. After reading Sarah Breathnach’s book “Simple Abundance” I reluctantly took on her gratitude journal challenge. I did it to almost prove her wrong. I wanted to prove to her and the world that sometimes you just can’t find things to be grateful for. It took a couple of weeks of consistently writing down 5 things a day to start to really SEE things differently. Instead of pointing out all that went wrong, I started to find all the ways God was preserving me through the trial. An out-of the blue call from a friend, a kind package left on my step, birds chirping out my window, a test that went easier than I had planned, etc. Gratitude didn’t change my circumstances, it changes me.
I am moved by the story of Viktor Frankl. Sent to a Nazi concentration camp, he survived on positivity and forgiveness, when it would be so easy to hate. His parents died, his wife died, his brother died. Only his sister survived.
You could survive an experience like that by blame and becoming a victim or you can choose to rise above.
I had the opportunity to sign Viktor Frankl’s Book of Greats when I spoke at a TEDx event a few years ago. There was such a powerful feeling when I signed it.
We’re human. Life will throw us some curve balls. Our greatest challenge is not avoiding these trials, but figuring out how to rise above them and move on.
To your future!